Johns resigns Senate seat to head gaming board
Ronnie Johns, a Republican from Sulphur, resigned his seat as state senator for District 27 on Friday to accept the role as chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
Johns, who was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, is the first chairman to hail from Southwest Louisiana and the third chairman in just over a year. The Senate did not reappoint former chairman Ronnie Jones in June 2020, and his replacement, Mike Noel, resigned last month.
A state legislator since 1996, Johns, 72, said he expressed interest in being chairman when the seat was open both times.
“It’s something that I felt I would be good at,” he said. “It’s a position that requires a real steady hand and requires hard decisions. The chairman has to make absolutely sure the gaming industry is clean, pristine and compliant in what they do.”
Johns said the gaming control board chairman also has to be “very fair” to the gaming industry and allow them to conduct business in a compliant way. Johns served nine years on the Senate Judiciary B Committee, in which all gaming legislation comes through.
“I think I have those qualities,” he said.
The first item out of the gate for the Gaming Control Board will be promulgating the rules for sports betting legislation, which the Legislature passed during the recent regular session and the governor signed into law. Out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, 55 approved sports betting during an election last November. Johns said the rules won’t likely be written until October or November.
“It’s a comprehensive process to go through,” he said.
Louisiana’s 15 riverboat licenses, the Harrah’s land-based casino in New Orleans, and the four racetracks will be the first to get the go ahead to proceed with sports betting because all of their background checks have already been done, Johns said. The second phase will include smaller businesses applying for licenses through the Louisiana Lottery Corp.
Conservative numbers indicate sports betting could bring $30 million to the state budget, with a portion being directed back to early childhood development in the education budget, Johns said.
Johns underwent a full knee replacement July 7, and complications that arose after surgery prompted his doctor to restrict travel for at least four weeks. Because of that, Johns missed the historic veto session that wrapped up Wednesday with no vetoed bills being overturned. Johns did vote for the veto session to take place.
“I still can’t travel,” Johns said. “I stand by my conviction that I was physically unable to attend. At my age, my responsibility to my family and my health had to take priority.”
Johns was set to be term-limited from his Senate seat in two years. With his resignation Friday, it leaves the seat open to potential candidates. Jeremy Stine, marketing director of Stine Lumber, confirmed earlier this month that he’s considering running for the seat.
As he moves into his new role as gaming board chairman, Johns said he has lived his legislative career with integrity.
“I went to Baton Rouge with a good name, and I think I’m leaving Baton Rouge with a good name,” he said. “It’s a new chapter in my life and something I’m excited about doing.”
State Sen. Ronnie Johns reads to students at University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles.